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Teaching Inspired by Gerry Anderson

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If you’ve tuned into the last few episodes of FAB Live, you may well have heard the name Peter Littman being mentioned by Jamie Anderson. Peter is a teacher who has introduced countless pupils in a new generation to the genius of Gerry Anderson through his teaching. Prepare to forget everything you think you know about school as Peter tells us all about it!

Hi Peter, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself?

I am 62, have lived in Southend on Sea all my life and have been teaching since the end of the 1970’s. I have been a single Dad to my two kids since they were 5 (Chris) and 9 (Sarah) when their mother left us, and they are now 28 and 32, both huge Gerry Anderson fans, following in Dad’s footsteps.

Teaching made fun - Peter with part of his collection
Peter and part of his Gerry Anderson collection

I will not be forgiven if I was to forget to mention that Sarah, now living in Sydney, says she loves everything Anderson and my son Chris constantly, for what seemed like years, would as small child awake in the early hours insisting I put on the video of Attack of The Alligators that he to this day can retell virtually the entire script!

Even though my first year of teaching was at an all girls’ secondary school, since then I have been teaching Juniors, normally Year 4’s (8 and 9 years old) with English and Music as my main subjects.

What was it like growing up in the swinging sixties?

Now, growing up in the 1960’s, the two things that kids still love, of course, are telly and pop music. Well, what an unbelievable tidal wave of incredible stuff there was for me back then! Music… The Beatles says it all for me (my class 2 years ago were very amused when I told them that when seeing Paul McCartney at the O2 a couple of years ago I was so excited I nearly fainted twice) and the TV then was just incredible.

The ITC series such as The Prisoner, Randall and Hopkirk Deceased etc,  we had the beginning of Doctor Who, the Irwin Allen shows like Lost in Space, Time Tunnel, the Quinn Martin series such as The Invaders, The Fugitive to name just the tip of the ice berg…it was a unique decade all round.

How did you first discover the world of Gerry Anderson?

What stood out for me more than anything were these programmes made by a chap called Gerry Anderson, whose name I noticed as a small boy on the end titles of Twizzle, Torchy, Four Feather Falls and then, of course, knowing he must be a genius, it was compulsive viewing to never miss Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, The Secret Service, UFO, The Protectors, and Space:1999, which took us to the mid ’70’s.

twizzle, space:1999
From Twizzle to Space:1999 – a huge change in a short space of time!

To think these series came one after another in so short an amount of time is almost unbelievable really, but what a time to be growing up! I guess it’s true to say that, having grown up, literally, with Gerry Anderson’s incredible series (I was around 4, possibly 3 when I saw Twizzle, and 20 by the time Space:1999 was being broadcast) I have all this wonderful magic superimposed into my very being!

Do you have a favourite series or episode?

Being the age I am, I of course remember each series having its premiere on ITV as and when they came out. These screenings were always at teatime/ early evening, the morning reruns didnt begin until 1969 when Thunderbirds was given another showing, this time in colour. This added a kind of new excitement each time with each series, partly because I was getting older, and partly because now, they bring back so many memories, as indeed favourite songs do from our past.

I have, therefore, to leave Thunderbirds out of this equation, because I think most would agree it’s Gerry Anderson’s Sergeant Pepper in a way, unique, longer in running time, never been equaled for so many reasons.

But if I was cast away on a desert island with only one series, I think I would plump for Fireball XL5. The final episode, Space City Special being my favourite episode. This was very special to me, it kind of feels like an end of term in itself, where they received their awards, did a musical number and the end titles being just an instrumental version of the famous song.

I love that episode!

Fireball XL5, a definite favourite with Peter!

What is the secret to the lasting success of Gerry’s creations?

Easy. There are no other series that come close to the sheer professionalism, excitement, good scripting, brilliant action, morals of good vs evil, excellent photography, wonderful, memorable music and lovable characters that have been made with puppets for children!

As one boy pointed out in my class only today “There just isnt anything else like this anywhere!”

Why did you decide to introduce your pupils to the work of Gerry Anderson?

As a teacher, I can’t help myself really, I just can’t resist bringing mention of these shows into my lessons, and for goodness knows how many years, I have always shown snippets, or episodes that, in those days I had on videos that I had taped from the 80’s re-runs to each class I have had come up to me.

Can you tell us about a few of the most common reactions that you encounter?

The response has always been FABulous, because, especially in more recent years, when to be honest, the state of kids TV is generally dreadful, they can’t believe that these were actually real models, real explosions and when I tell them of the time and care taken, they are universally impressed.

I have noticed, especially in the last 20 years or so, that children’s concentration has deteriorated dramatically. In days gone by, teachers could show, say, for example, Disney’s Lady and The Tramp at the end of a summer term to occupy them while shifting classes, tidying up etc, but those days are gone now as they get bored so quickly, wanting nothing but continuous action.

But what I have also noticed is, with the shows I have shown them of Gerry’s, their concentration is maintained throughout as there is that continual sense of genuine awe from beginning to end.

“You mean they are actually REAL models and explosions??! Wow!!”

Real effects – an explosive hit with Peter’s pupils!

In this day of DVDs, downloading, streaming etc, they can get hold of these series by themselves and one girl, now an ex-pupil, 15, has bought herself the complete Fireball XL5 box set as an example of how the Gerry Anderson legacy lives on.

An interesting point, I think, is that these days they are all watching Thunderbirds Are Go! on CITV, but without exception, they all agree the original is far superior because of the uniqueness of all the Supermarionation shows.

Aside from watching clips and episodes, how else do you bring the worlds of Gerry Anderson into the classroom?

There is a wealth of creative writing involved, including summary, opinions, prediction skills, letter writing, creative stories based on what they have seen, and of course poetry, art, drama and music!

One class I had years ago really were a tough, rough bunch! The only way I could get them to concentrate and behave was to sing the theme to Fireball XL5, which they adored, and funnily enough, we were in the middle of singing it when the local politician walked in. He loved it and said “This is what teaching should all be about”.

School just wouldn’t be school without a good old-fashioned project. Have you ever been tempted to base a project on Gerry’s legacy?

One year, a few years ago, I did an entire project on trying to get Gerry Anderson a Knighthood, and the class were so fired up, we wrote to the Queen and had a response saying she was most impressed with the children’s drawings of all the spaceships. A local MP came in to have a look and agreed it was a good idea.

My deputy head, bless her, now retired, said that although we weren’t successful, she wondered if the release of the Royal Mail stamps had any connection with the fuss we were causing to get Gerry Anderson a higher accolade. Would be nice to think so, even if a little unlikely.

As revealed in FAB Live 5, the Captain Scarlet pilot episode, ‘The Mysterons’, will likely be the final episode that you’ll show before your full time retirement, can you tell us why you chose this particular episode?

I chose this particular series and episode from it, because I felt it was very different in many ways from the earlier shows. The puppets, of course, are more life like, the story is quite complicated and they really have to concentrate in order to get it. I also want them to appreciate that there were only 6 intervening years between this and Supercar, and how much amazing progression had been achieved in so short a time!  It is a bit violent in places, but Gerry himself said to me, when I met him…

“Yes, it is violent and pretty dark, but children aren’t stupid, and at the end of the day, they know they are only watching puppets”

Captain Scarlet, a darker series than those that came before

And finally, Peter, are you going to continue your avid viewing after you fully retire?

There is little that really interests me on today’s TV. There are, of course, occasional gems, but by and large, I think its pretty poor. Over the years, I have collected over 200 actual series on video/DVD, ranging from Land of The Giants to Journey to the Unknown, with, of course, every Gerry Anderson series there is.

What I do is to make my own schedules. Autumn used to be a great time of excitement with all the new stuff starting, so I do it all myself these days, scheduling many series on the days and at times, as close as possible, to when they were on when I used to watch them. This avoids binge watching and keeping them always fresh. And so, for example, this Autumn I shall be seeing…

Thunderbirds…Fridays 4.55pm

Joe 90… Saturdays 12.15pm

UFO… Saturdays 5.00pm

Fireball XL5 …Sundays 4.40pm

Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons…Sundays 5.25pm

Its great fun doing it this way, giving them breaks every now and again, and really gives that feeling of excitement when I know theyre coming back. Self control is all that’s needed !

Understandably, most people think I’m bonkers, but actually a few have taken up this way of doing as well, and it makes a great hobby, so, absolutely, Gerry Anderson will live on in my life forever!!!

As George Harrison said in a song after The Beatles had split up, “All Things Must Pass” and that has been proved as far as my teaching career is concerned. I have taught over, I would say, around 3,000 children over the years and have had a truly amazing time. But, sadly, education is now going in such a restrictive way with policies that are so narrow, I truly feel now that things are tightening up so hard that should I be staying for any longer, my desires and passions to bring the worlds of Gerry Anderson simply would not be allowed. Today’s regimes seem only interested in doing away with any kind of individuality and creating a generation of robots. I am truly grateful, nevertheless to have been allowed to be myself for so many years and having been free to introduce several generations to Gerry’s unique work. Spectrum Is Green!

We’d like to thank Peter for sharing his wonderful insights and experiences as a fan who has brought the works of Gerry Anderson into the classroom in a remarkable way, and we hope you enjoyed reading all about it as much as we did! That’s not the whole story though, because once upon a time Gerry invited Peter to visit the set of Terrahawks and who knows, perhaps we’ll be able to bring you a bit more on that story soon. Stay on this channel!

In the meantime, we would love to hear from anyone else who has introduced their workmates or school friends to the many series Gerry Anderson created, so be sure to tell us all about it in the comments section!

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Andrew Clements

A writer, film maker and self confessed Gerry Anderson fanatic. Free to good home.

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  • Jonathan Roper

    I show original and new Thunderbirds during wet playtimes. Explosions go down well.

    We’ve used the Rock-snake attack on the MEV as an action description-writing stimulus. Also used Thunderbird 1 and 2 getting shot down in The Uninvited and Terror in NYC respectively.

    We have a whole writing unit based on a Stingray story where Titan releases a supersized squid into the ocean and Stingray, while investigating, gets attacked before blasting it to smithereens with a carefully placed sting missile. Very popular unit and peppered with dvd clips throughout. Sometimes start the lesson off with the Marineville battle stations too.

    I’ve had children writing using the fantastic illustrations from the Captain Scarlet end titles – always thought that these would be better episodes than many of those that were actually made!

    I showed them Joe 90 vs Colletti and they loved it when Joe lobs a grenade at him!
    Always looking for a way to fit it in!

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